*Here’s how you get through this, America: For the time being, don’t answer your phone.
Where is the shock here? Like anyone living beyond means, mismanaging their funds or suffering a bad patch of fiscal fate, America was destined to have credit woes.
As a nation, for decades we haven’t simply stood on the edge; we built a McMansion development there and settled in. Addicted to fast food, celebrity and porn, we morally and spiritually live in Chapter 11. All the human lives and dough spent on wars in which we had no business; all the stuff we’re shackled to but can’t pay for–we wear our debt like a fashion accessory that’s long gone out of style but which we cannily refer to as “classic.”
Watching Congress attempt to establish a new debt ceiling was like watching the childish goings-on of adult next-door neighbors who each think they’re better than the other. Throw in arrogance, garden variety ignorance and that pesky, ever present spice called racism, and you’ve got a recipe for one giant doo-doo casserole.
Even before the bill was passed, you got the suspicion that things wouldn’t end well when certain politicians and TV pundits began downplaying the significance of missing the deadline itself. For the nation to default, it wouldn’t really mean that much, they insisted. Translation: “MY life isn’t going to change immediately and America still has the capability to bomb the hell out of anyone we want, so there.”
For its part, Standard & Poors, the financial services firm that lowered the nation’s AAA credit rating to AA+, argued that a two trillion dollar error in its calculation doesn’t alter the fact that Congress is a pathetic manager of America’s finances, which is what initiated the credit change.
When Martians view the rancid whole of it from their space craft hovering high above earth, it all must resemble a massive dysfunctional flash mob. Personally, I’m convinced the only one who can fix this shit now is The Cat In The Hat–who says he’s not lifting a paw or reciting one clever rhyme on the subject until he’s been paid for cleaning up the BP oil spill in the gulf.
Thus, in the name of patriotism, I offer the credit-challenged Uncle Sam some time-honored tips on getting through this mess.
Like I said, don’t answer the phone. Or if you do answer and your creditors
are on the other end, turn down “Maury,” disguise your voice and say, “Uncle Who? Never heard of him,” and hang up. When they call back, get huffy: “Look, I told you don’t no @#$%&! Uncle Sam live here!” Threaten them with physical harm if they call back. Then again, maybe you don’t want to threaten China.
Or you could do what Daddy used to do when a phoning creditor became a nuisance. “Listen,” he’d say in a solemn tone just above a whisper, not immediately decipherable as anger or some sort of psychosis. “I’m gonna bring the money down there RIGHT NOW. And when I do, I don’t want to see NOBODY BUT YOU. I want to put it in YOUR hand, personally.” I imagined a suddenly nervous bill collector on the other end, cordially informing Daddy that he didn’t have to go through the trouble of coming down; simply put it the mail.
Once, when the phone rang in the middle of dinner, Daddy answered, listened for a few seconds and responded with calculated nonchalance, “Let me get your HOME number and call you back.” Silence. “Well, you’ve got MY home number, I want yours so I can call you while YOU’RE eating YOUR dinner….”
And Uncle Sam, don’t worry that you’ll have a problem getting your gas, water and electricity connected. Simply put your utilities in your Mama’s name.
Having your credit downgraded doesn’t mean you can’t still roll in style. There are car dealerships that will sell a car to a rescue shelter dog. You’ve seen the TV commercials, which feature sexy girls prancing around the vehicles: “No job? No problem. Bad credit? No problem. No credit? No problem. Recently declared dead? No problem. Has your credit recently been bumped down to that of a third world country and does China refer to you as its bitch? THAT could be a problem. But come on in anyway. We will work WITH you….”
Of course, none of the above offers a solution to our financial morass. That’s going to involve the kind of reality not found on an episode of “Survivor.”
It’s going to require patience, a reliable calculator, someone who knows how to use it and us growing the collective balls to deal with the resulting digits. That’s a spooky proposition for a country that has spent a lifetime looking the other way and where personal responsibility has become a delicacy. But to find the life we really want, we’re first going to have to find the courage to look at life as it really is.
Are we going to make it? Of course, we’re going to make it. We always make it. When you’re left with lemons, you make lemonade. When those chickens come home to roost–only to discover that the henhouse is now owned by the bank–we’ll simply double up on our protein.
In the meantime, when you call the crib, give me half a ring, hang up and then immediately call back. That way, I’ll know it’s you.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].